My niece was getting ready for bed one night when I was home visiting my family. She was just about to head upstairs and crawl into bed when my sister called her back to say goodnight to everyone. As she made her way around the room, she hugged some of us, gave others high-fives, gave her grandparents goodnight kisses, and even gave one person a “goodnight wave.” She knew (because my sister had taught her) that she didn’t have to hug someone if she didn’t want to. She wasn’t being rude or unkind. She was just doing what felt right to her in that moment.
The holidays are an important time for families to set safe boundaries with their kids. We know that over 90% of the children who are sexually abused know and trusted the person who abused them. It’s rarely the scary stranger in a white van, but rather is likely to be a member of the family, a babysitter, a family friend, or another person in a position of trust. When a child is abused by someone they thought they could trust, disclosure becomes even more difficult, confusing, and frightening. When we teach our children that we’ll respect their boundaries, they learn that they are in charge of their bodies and they feel more empowered to speak up and tell an adult if someone hurts them.
This holiday season, we’d strongly encourage allowing your children to be in charge of their bodies, especially when it comes to greetings and goodbyes. If Sally doesn’t want to hug Uncle Stu, let her know that it’s okay. She can just wave instead! If Peter doesn’t want to give Grandma a kiss on the cheek, a hug or high-five is just fine! When we give our children permission to make these types of choices, we let them know that we’re safe adults. We let them know they could talk to us if they were ever being hurt. We let them know that no one, no matter who they are, should touch them without getting permission.
If you’d like help in learning how to talk with your children about sexual abuse or learning more about how to keep kids safe, reach out to our Prevention Team at 815-756-7930, x106.